My grandfather entered a world at war during a time when merely surviving your first year of life was an accomplishment. One in 10 infants died before their first birthday in 1918, prenatal care, non existent, antibiotics, a pipe dream. He enjoyed adolescence during the roaring 20’s, came of age during the depression, survived a second World War and had celebrated his 50th birthday before a man walked on the moon.
He grew up building in Brooklyn, his family on the second, his cousins and his father’s brother’s above. The first floor, a barn, with a horse, in Brooklyn, a barn in Brooklyn. Today the building is worth millions, a Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters sit close by, in the 30’s a garbage man owned it. “Garbage was not a bad business to be in during the 30’s, Carmine.”
He met my grandmother in the 1940’s, they were married, the end of this month would have been their 67th wedding anniversary, they celebrated 59 together. They bought their first and only home a couple years later, a four bedroom two bath home in Nassau County. Price tag, $10,000. Thanks to putting 10% down and a 22-year mortgage at just over 4%, their monthly note was just over $80 I believe, I recently looked over the original mortgage documents.
He took the Long Island Railroad each day into Manhattan to sell insurance but had retired long before I was born. He ate lunch in the shadows of the World Trade Center during his final years on the job “The bastards, Carmine, those bastards, may they rot in Hell,” he would say years later.
He helped my mother burry my father two weeks after my birth, the only thing that ever caused him to question his faith out loud. “Why Carmine, explain it, a young man, a doctor, why?” What do you say to that? I never had an answer. I hope he got his today.
He was a devoted husband. He cared for my grandfather solely on his own in their home until she passed away seven years ago. By the end she was virtually blind and if a minute went by without her hearing his voice she would would start to squeal his name, it echoed throughout the house, I never heard him complain. Not once.
I wish I could say we were particularly close as I grew up, but we were not. I grew up outside Philadelphia. There were weekly phone calls and day trips in both directions (many a lunch shared at the Ground Round in Media, PA) but our relationship didn’t mature until I was close to 20. In college their house became a convent place to visit. As luck would have it, two of my three college roommates grew up just 20 minutes away from the home my grandfather bought almost 50 years before I entered college. Maybe it wasn’t luck at all.
Over the last 10 years at first as my grandmother’s health began to fail and wth the help of technology, our correspondence became daily. Subjects included baseball, a Mets fan from the start as his brothers favored the Yankees. “I’m a National League rooter, Carmine.” After the weather, he was always amazed how different the weather was in Texas compared to New York, the chats would turn to the market.
“How’s the market?” I tried once to explain his municipal bond funds were not that reliant on market movements, but it didn’t seem to matter to him. “Any suggestions?,” he would ask. About 20% of the time he would actually listen. Most of the time we agreed upon “Do nothing.” My greatest accomplishment came in 2009, his treasury notes were coming due, he didn’t like the yield any longer so was looking for somewhere else to put the cash. “You know Carmine, you use to get 17% for treasuries.”
A quick aside. Soon after I was married (and when a yield existed) he mailed me a check for $2,000 and instructed me to buy a 2-yr treasury. Who I was I to argue, especially with this logic. “Carmine, if the government can’t pay you back, we’re going to have much more serious problems to worry about than that $2,000.” When it matured it was the last payment on the last car loan we’ve ever had. That was 8 years ago.
Anyway, thanks to my urging he bought (for the first time in his life) the Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund. His allocation went in April, 2009. It’s never been touched. All those gaps he could have played on the chart, a pity I guess…
But he was yield thirsty too so muni bonds and utilities stayed, adding to his monthly Social Security check. I never convinced him to buy Apple and it took me 4 days to get him to buy GE in the upper teens, but ultimately he did. I chuckled to myself this morning has it made a new high. “Finally, your GE Is working, Carmine. Any other suggestions?” I would have two days of credibility.
I also turned him on to PHK and NLY, which would have been fine if he sold when I told him too. When I took over his finances earlier this year, I found out he had not. It’s certainly a good lesson in yield chasing.
He was not a nimble investor and was frugal to a fault. Looking thru his dresser this week I found a receipt for a sewage line clean out from 2012. It’s clear in the notes that he needed more than just a clean out but he paid $900 to merely snake the line. That line failed a couple months ago, I had to have it repaired for over $6,000. Shortly thereafter a minor gas leak needed repair, all handled from my desk in Texas. It was a hassle, but it was worth it.
All my grandfather ever wanted was to die in his home. I was able to give that to him. He took his last breath in his own bedroom. I was using my Apple Watch to monitor his pulse, I stared at his chest. He had lost 40 pounds, probably more by the end since June, he was a shell of his former self. No one else has ever owned that home. He probably spent no more than 30 nights outside it and many of those were in a hospital. His last plane flight was 1968, a work trip to Tennessee.
So I sat there, thinking about all this, keeping family updated on a device that would have been something from space when my grandfather was my age. I checked the market (having the typical conversation in my head with him) I saw Under Armour down. It dawned on me that I had worn a UA hat and jacket to the house today and was wearing pants, a shirt and shoes from the same and I made my first and last purchase on his behalf in his account solely on my discretion. I bought UA at 85, I dont’ even know where it closed to be honest, I don’t care. I’m sure I’ll get cute with the shares I already own and sell some and buy it back, but not this piece, this piece I bought today, it wont’ be sold ever. One day it will merge with my account at the same brokerage and that’s where it will stay…forever.
It’s not savvy, but neither was his style yet he managed to put my father through college and medical school and myself through undergrad and graduate school. So maybe not savvy is okay? I think that’s okay with me.